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TORONTO — A handful of university students have completed the construction of a greenhouse in Nunavut to grow cheaper food for the locals.

Ben Canning, a Ryerson University student, just returned from Naujaat where he helped build the igloo-like structure in a week.

Locals had been skeptical about the project, the 20-year-old Canning said, viewing it as “more white people” coming to help them. But once the students began toiling away on the greenhouse, he said their skepticism melted away.

Now the locals have dubbed it the “green igloo,” said Canning, 20.

“They started to make it their own and that really put a smile on my face,” he said in an interview Friday.

The “green igloo” is a geodesic dome, a modular sphere made with triangular polycarbonate panels. The team of four students will head back to Naujaat in March to complete construction on the inside of the dome and set up the hydroponic system needed to grow the plants.

Then in April, they will plant food, including tomatoes, cucumbers and potatoes. Nieto has begun organizing a women’s collective that aims to bring women together on a regular basis in a cooking club using the greenhouse’s bounty. And Grades 9 and 10 students from Tusarvik School will also use part of the greenhouse for their studies.

The final week of exterior construction was the culmination of two years of work for Canning and Stefany Nieto, both business students at the school’s Ted Rogers School of Management. They wanted to tackle a social issue affecting Canadians, and after some research, settled on food scarcity in the North.

Food is outrageously expensive in places like Naujaat, which changed its name from Repulse Bay on July 2. It is difficult to produce locally so much of it comes in by boat or plane.

“The cost of food is a major problem,” Naujaat’s mayor Solomon Malliki told The Canadian Press this summer, adding that four apples cost him $13.

Starvation is a real threat in places like Naujaat, located on the Arctic Circle in central Nunavut.

The greenhouse-building team is part of Enactus, an international organization that connects students, professors and business experts with the goal of using entrepreneurial action to raise living standards.

Nieto went to Nunavut for a month in August to prepare for the greenhouse’s construction. She said they’ve lined up a local woman to run the greenhouse full-time — although they are still working on finding grant money to be able to pay her salary.

The project, known as Growing North, is a non-profit operation and, if all goes well, they hope to expand to nearby communities in the next few years.

“I’m so, so excited and the community seems to have really embraced it,” said Nieto, 21.

It wasn’t an entirely smooth build. Construction was delayed a month because the ship with all their supplies had to wait for the thick sea-ice to melt. And, like any construction site, problems arose.

Canning said they only had access to two drills, a problem that can be easily solved for most Canadians with $60 and a trip to the local hardware store.

But that $60 drill, Canning said, sells for $450 in Nunavut. So they were stuck with two drills, tossing it back and forth as needed to screw the greenhouse together. It got done, even after a snowstorm dropped about 45 centimetres one day.

“It was hectic, but it worked,” Canning said.

Follow @liamdevlincasey on Twitter


Liam Casey, The Canadian Press

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